Jimmy Carter photo

Toasts at a State Dinner During the Visit of Prime Minister Cossiga of Italy

January 24, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. I know all of you join me in this happy occasion, happy because we have a very fine friend here from a great nation. It's a pleasure for me to welcome Prime Minister Cossiga here.

This is his first official visit to the White House, and I know I join with all of you in hoping that he'll come back here several times, for many years in the future-and you and I will be here to greet him as hosts. [Laughter] So far, I have no arguments from our guest. [Laughter]

As a matter of fact, he and I have a lot in common. I went for a number of years, and to three different colleges, and finally got a bachelor of science degree; he's a distinguished professor of constitutional law. We've both served in the Federal Government, as you know. I've been in office 3 years; he's served 22 years. [Laughter] He has held many offices in the federal government of Italy; I've only held one office. [Laughter] We both have been in the Navy. He's still in the reserves. He's a commander, and I was a lieutenant. [Laughter] But we both have actually one thing in common: Sardinia is just about as far from Rome as Georgia is from Washington. [Laughter]

Our guest is a scholar and still a student. And one of the great historic figures whom he admires most is Sir Thomas More. He's written about Sir Thomas More, and he described him in these words: "A great political leader. A fine diplomat. An eminent jurist, and a productive man of culture." And I think that description accurately describes our guest here this evening.

I quoted this morning from a saying in Sardinia, that one only knows one's true friends in a time of crisis or tribulation, challenge. And in the last few months under Prime Minister Cossiga, we have been reminded in our own Nation again of the true value of friendship.

Our country has been tested; we have faced difficult and trying times. And I think the harmony that we have achieved, because of the sensitivity and the friendship and the tremendous political courage exhibited by the leader of the Government of Italy, has been an inspiration to all of us and a support that we will never forget.

There is a characteristic about our Nation which hasn't been adequately emphasized since American hostages were seized by militant kidnapers on the fourth day of November last year. It's a significant measure of the character of a nation when it shows how it responds to an act of terrorism that hurts one person or a few people. The entire Nation and in fact the entire world was aroused when President Moro was a victim of an act of terrorism. It showed not only the strength of Italy to come together in a sense of both unity and concern because a violent act was perpetrated against humanity, but America has exhibited the same kind of sentiment and the same kind of unity and the same kind of strength and the same kind of concern and the same kind of compassion in the last few weeks—220 million Americans absolutely obsessed with the fact that 50 of our fellow citizens were being held as innocent victims by terrorists. I think it's a measure not of weakness, but of strength, and I'm very grateful that we in this time of trial have had the absolute firm support of the people and the Government of Italy.

In addition to that, the Italian Government and its people have expressed in very strong terms their condemnation of the unwarranted military aggression against the people of Afghanistan.

It's not only in a time of crisis and trial and testing that we and the Italian people have been drawn together. We have much in common, as you well know, not only in times of current events but historical perspective. Our culture has been derived to a major degree from the great teachers, scholars, poets, of Rome. Every American knows at least one phrase in Latin, "E Pluribus Unum," and it came, as you know, from a poet, Virgil, in Rome.

Obviously this is not the only thing that we derived from Italy. One of the things that we've noticed, that I have noticed today, is the rapid growth in the number of Italo-Americans who live in our Nation. This morning I said after talking to the Prime Minister—I got my figure from the Prime Minister—that there were 7 million Italo-Americans in this country. And this evening, just a few hours later, there are 20 million Italo-Americans. [Laughter] And my wife and Gino Paolucci 1 on the way in said, "It's not 20 million, Mr. President; it's 30 million." [Laughter] I am sure after this visit by the Prime Minister there will be at least 65 million Italo-Americans in our country. [Laughter]

Well, we do have strong and firm and constant military ties with Italy. We have strong and firm and constant and very valuable political ties with Italy. We also have economic ties, cultural ties. And I think perhaps the most important of all is the one I just mentioned, ties of blood, of kinship. There is no way under any possible political party or any possible President that our Nation could ever be separated from a feeling of affinity and mutual purpose for the people of Italy, because not only 20 or 30 million Italo-Americans live here but their influence and their concern remind all Americans of the value of this ancient friendship, the sharing of culture, the sharing of present problems, and the sharing of a great future destiny.

It's an honor for us to have a statesman and a scholar, a great diplomat and a firm political leader to come and be with us this evening. And I would like to propose a toast at this time to Prime Minister Cossiga and to the great and to the brave people of Italy.

Mr. Prime Minister, we're glad to have you with us.

THE PRIME MINISTER. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Carter has just mentioned that he came out of the Navy as a mere lieutenant, while I'm a commander or captain; and then he came out with a bachelor's degree from college, and I am a professor; and I have served in many capacities in my country, and he has served only in one here. But there is one thing that he can do that I have noticed: His aides allow him to speak off the cuff, something that my aides do not. [Laughter]

Of course, guess what I am going to get from my aides for speaking off the cuff tonight? But they'll catch up with me in Rome.

President Carter has also mentioned that I am very deeply attached to Sir Thomas More, and he has said that many of the things that apply to him can apply to me. But I can say that it was said of Thomas More that he was born for friendship and progress, and, Mr. President, this applies to you.

Mr. President, I can rightfully number his day among the richest of my political and personal life—this day, which sees me extend to you the greetings of Italy and the Italian Government and people, and express to you the high esteem, profound respect, sincere friendship and gratitude for your cordial hospitality. This is all the more so since in you I feel I pay tribute and address the great American Nation: the nation of the Pilgrim Fathers, the nation of great struggles and sacrifices during the colonial period to win and to defend the guarantees of democracy, the nation of the great struggles for independence, and the nation which at the most crucial moments of world history has always been an important part of the struggle for liberty.

I feel I am addressing the country which first laid down democratic consensus as the basis for political power, the country which, at so many times in its life, has given expression to the style and solidity of ancient Rome, and not only through the use of the words "E Pluribus Unum," the splendor of renaissance Italy, and the creative brilliance of baroque Italy.

I see that my speech is long; therefore, Mr. President, I'm going to face the wrath of my aides, and I am going to speak off the cuff. [Laughter] Otherwise I hope-[inaudible].

Mr. President, I hope I will be able to express, in a few simple words, what it said, in more flowery terms, in the text that we had prepared in Rome. This morning, Mr. President, you gave me a lesson of simplicity which I have learned. It's not the habit of Italian politicians to be very simple. [Laughter]

My visit here today comes as a proof of friendship and solidarity towards your great country at the time when the United States feel affected in their deepest feelings by the fate of the hostages which are being held at present in Iran, and to whom I wish, as a man and a Christian, a safe return home to their families and in their country.

I arrived here, Mr. President, at the time where the political situation of the world is in turmoil. I came as an Italian and as a European, a friend among friends, an ally among allies, and I have been treated as such since the moment I stepped on American soil.

We, in Italy, are committed to defend the security of our people, hence, of the whole world. And we are convinced that it is only through the respect of international law and through the respect of the sovereignty of nations that it will be possible to have peace reign.

The history of your country and of our country have many points in common, Mr. President. We both fought for our independence, our freedom, and our unity, and we both do not wish to lose it.

I have come from the old continent to the new continent, and I have found that the new continent has reached unity before we have. And yet, I assure you, we are working towards that goal in order to be worthy of the sons of Europe who have come to these shores. Together we work for peace in the conviction that only through this work for peace it will be possible to guarantee the security and liberty of the world. It is a duty that we share not only vis-a-vis of our perspective people, we share it vis-a-vis of the whole world. They are the fathers of liberty in the old continent, the fathers of liberty in the new continent. That is why we are friends and allies and brothers. And no matter what, we shall continue, Mr. President, together to work for peace, liberty, and security. Thank you.

And now, I have a request to make. Could you please sort of break a lance in my favor with my aides so that I don't get too much hate? [Laughter]

1 Chairman of the board, Italian American Foundation.

Note: The President spoke at 8:18 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. Prime Minister Cossiga spoke in Italian, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

Jimmy Carter, Toasts at a State Dinner During the Visit of Prime Minister Cossiga of Italy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249542

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives